In a film which seems to be just as much about Will Smith wanting an Oscar as it is about informing you about Dr. Omalu, Smith dons an accent, breaks down the troubling effects a football career can have, and places a new entry into one of his top 3 dramatic performances. With this one being #3.
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
It’s 2002 in Pittsburgh, PA and Dr. Omalu (Will Smith) is working in a morgue talking to a deceased patient trying to figure out why they died. Recognize, though, this is one of his few eccentric qualities. For the most part, Dr. Omalu is a rather dull man. He is a practicing catholic who goes to church, goes to work, goes home to sometimes do more work, sleep, and then repeat.
This cycle gets broken, however, by a handful of life-altering things Dr. Omalu wasn’t expecting. The first being the church asking him to house Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is slightly new to the country and in need, and then the death of a handful of football players. Mike Webster (David Morse) is the first one which starts it all, though.
His death sparks a curiosity in Dr. Omalu and pushes him to question, after his shared discovery of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), why does the NFL not address this disease? Thus leading him to constantly try to force the NFL to pay attention to his work and him deal with the many who don’t appreciate when you try to taint America’s pastime.
As usual, Smith plays a likable character whose charm allows him to become someone whose side you quickly take and who you cheer through every up and down.
When it comes to the topic of CTE, rather than tout it out there like this big complicated thing and keep it that way, through showing what happens to football players with it, and breaking it down on the biological end, you are introduced it in a way easy to understand.
Arguably, it is hard to take Smith seriously as he tries to maintain his take on a Nigerian accent. Mostly because, as much as you see Dr. Omalu is someone to take seriously, when it comes to some lines, like the trailer’s “Tell the truth,” and one scene in which he repeatedly talks about a doctor’s patients as “your men” the accent almost seems like it belongs to a problematic villain from a James Bond film.
As likable as Smith, and most of the cast are, for me it felt like there wasn’t any real depth to any character. What I mean by this is, when it comes to Smith he isn’t necessarily losing himself in the character. Like many an actor, he is bringing himself into the role and while, I assume, the accent was supposed to be his attempt to help you get lost in the character, it ultimately fails. Then, when it comes to the football players, as much as they are devastatingly self-destructive and violent, they never become more than examples of what CTE does to them. We don’t truly get to know Mike Webster, and the rest, well enough to make them fully human and not just visuals to help push how devastating CTE can be.
Final Thought(s): TV Viewing
Is this informative, yes; is this entertaining, to a point; but would I say is this a must see? Nope. No one in this film seems to challenge their dramatic skills and while CTE is devastating, arguably with all the focus being on Dr. Omalu and him dealing with the NFL push back, we don’t get to see the decline. No, the death of football players is but fodder to try to make Dr. Omalu seem like a more powerful character. Which, to me, wasn’t the best decision.
Hence the TV Viewing label for, in my opinion, there should have been a shared focus between Dr. Omalu and these football players, rather than us getting a handful of here today, news headline tomorrow football players, and us seeing Dr. Omalu start a family. Which, in my thoughts, is a bit of a disservice to the men who, supposedly, Dr. Omalu was speaking for and trying to prevent more like them.